Archive for the ‘Jefferson County Commission’ Category

>Sewer debt is your responsibility

March 14, 2011

>There was an article in the Birmingham News recently in which the Jefferson County sewer crisis was covered. In the article John S. Young was quoted as saying that Jefferson county sewer customers could expect double digit rate increases (even as high as 25%) to deal with the sewer debt. Young is the court appointed receiver handling the case. He has the power to raise rates and increase revenue to pay off the debt.

I have stated before that this debt is not the responsibility of just the sewer customers, and gave a reason suggesting that so called non-user fees are one way to increase revenue. More on this later.

There is another reason that all the citizens of Jefferson County, not just he sewer users, should contribute to paying off the debt. This debt was amassed as a result of poor decisions and unethical dealings by elected officials and their staffs (and some are paying the price). Those elected officials were put in place by all the (voting) citizens of Jefferson County, and like it or not, we must also pay the price for our poor decision in elected those corrupt and inept officials.

Here is the Western Tribune column in which I suggested non-user fees were proper. This is a public health issue, and all residents benefit from the sewer, whether they are hooked up to the system or not.

When this column ran, someone asked for an example of harm resulting from a septic tank. Here is an example; a septic tank was the source of a Norwalk virus outbreak that affected 135 people in South Dakota, as mentioned in this article. So yes, septic tanks can contribute to disease outbreaks.

Someone else mentioned that they pay (taxes) for local schools even though they have no children in the schools. Is that a non-user fee that we are paying? We all benefit from an educated public (just as we all benefit from the sewer system).

Cholera became the first reportable disease in the United States. Hundred of thousands of people in this country died from cholera during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Only after the connection between contaminated water (from sewage) and disease outbreaks was recognized were public health measures undertaken. With filtration and treatment of drinking water and disposal and treatment of waste in separated facilities Cholera became a non-threat in this country.

We take clean, uncontaminated drinking water for granted.

Everyone benefited from the public health measures put in place to control Cholera, and like wise, everyone benefits from the Jefferson County sewer system, whether your waste flows through it or not.

So there are two reasons why the responsibility for the debt should be spread among all the residents of the county, not just the sewer users. I wonder if Mr. Young will agree.

>Bessemer gets some good news

April 16, 2010

>

Jefferson County Commission president Bettye Fine Collins said that the new Jefferson County Courthouse in Bessemer will open in June. The building was completed last year but has sat empty because the county couldn’t afford to staff it and run the operations there.

Now Collins says opening the courthouse is “prudent” because taxpayers are paying $5 million a year in debt service on the building.

“We’ve built that edifice out there…”

Let’s not forget she was against building the courthouse in the first place and in 2006 said: (Much of this comes from a previous Bessemer Opinions post).

”Is Bessemer growing residentially that it needs to serve more people? No,” Collins said. ”We’ve got a courthouse satellite in Forestdale, we’ve got one in Center Point, we’ve got one in Homewood and now one in Gardendale. Why in the world are we building a $100 million deal in Bessemer?”

I wrote a letter that was printed in the Birmingham News that pointed out that she didn’t understand the history or the importance of the Bessemer Cutoff and the courthouse, and invited her to come visit Bessemer and learn about us. I mentioned that historic neighborhoods are being restored, plans are in place to revitalize downtown, our public education is improving, and new families are moving to Bessemer. (All of that was true in 2007, still true in 2010).

She took my advice, and showed up for the groundbreaking in April 2007, saying, “Bessemer has a rich and wonderful history. This groundbreaking helps the resurgence of downtown and reflects the renewal going on all over the city.”

At any rate, we welcome the news that the courthouse will open, and with the new DHR building groundbreaking scheduled to take place next month just a couple of blocks away, it looks like the south downtown area of Bessemer will lead the way in the revitalization of downtown.

Look for a new coffee shop and a restaurant to open in the area in the next year. Oh, that’s just a wish, sorry. But maybe it will give someone an idea.

>Western Tribune column August 5 2009 Jefferson County mess

August 5, 2009

>Months ago in this column and elsewhere the day or reckoning was predicted, and here we are. On Friday many Jefferson County services were stopped or reduced as up to two thirds of the county employees were laid off.

My greatest empathy is with the laid off workers who not only have to live with the diminished services in the county but must do so without their income.

We can live with decreased road maintenance. Anyone who drives in Bessemer is accustomed to washboard road surfaces and pot holes large enough to break an axle since our own elected officials have been unable to address this problem for at least the last seven years.

And we can live with longer lines at the courthouses which are, after all, just inconveniences.

But more serious effects are looming. Without the services of the county coroner’s office bodies may lay at crime or accident scenes for days, we are told. As usual, the elderly and indigent populations will suffer the most, as services are curtailed. Even the county nursing home will be affected; what will become of their residents?

If you are fortunate to sell your house or want to buy one, you may face a delay as title searches will take longer. Processing of wills and commitment of the mentally ill will be delayed in probate court.

The true effects of the layoffs will be seen over the next few weeks and beyond. The county legislative delegation may come together and a special session may result in some money being returned and some employees being called back.

But that won’t solve the problems. Jefferson County’s credit rating is lower than any municipality in the country, according to Moody’s Investors Service. One of their directors said that outside of Detroit, they have not seen any place in America with the severity of problems that we face.

As a county store owner said, “The big dogs ate all the bones. Now we are all out of bones.”

Some of those big dogs are in prison. Some may be headed there soon. But there are still five big dogs on the Jefferson County Commission, and it’s time that their bone eating stops.

As embarrassing as the situation is for Jefferson County, the biggest embarrassment of all would be to return the current commissioners to office. Remember that next year.

>Norfolk Southern, bus transit and elections

July 30, 2009

>Be sure to read my Western Tribune column which follows this post.

The former president of the Metropolitan Development Board, Ted vonCannon, is now a paid consultant for Norfolk Southern. He spoke at the 2oth annual Bessemer Business Awards held at Lawson State Community College. story at al.com

He told the group that he believes that the McCalla residents will eventually see he intermodal project as a positive development.

“It’s a project I believe has great merit,” vonCannon said. “Is everybody going to be happy? of course not. but I believe there can be a greater understanding.”

Monday the No Hub 4 McCalla folks had a meeting and one of their speakers told the group “Norfolk Southern doesn’t care about your kids. Norfolk Southern is looking out for Norfolk Southern. It’s up to us to look out for ourselves.”

Just for the record, Norfolk Southern does care about kids. In 1984 they established a foundation to direct their charitable giving.

From their web site:

The Foundation’s intent is to help ensure that:

  • Our region’s children are provided with first-class educational opportunities that make them productive and valued employees in the future;
  • Our communities can offer their citizens access to cultural opportunities that make life more enjoyable; and
  • Our communities can provide residential and work environments that are safe, attractive and desirable.

While most of their charitable giving (which is in the millions) toward education is for post secondary scholarships and such, young children benefit from their giving to United Way and other community and cultural recipients.

Larry Langford and upcoming elections

What can I say. I wrote about Al LaPierre’s plea agreement yesterday on Examiner. Langford’s spin is that this will help him, so it’s business as usual for him.

He says the city needs to fix the bus system, or start over.

Here is the future of the Birmingham bus system, as envisioned by the Metropolitan Planning Organization (h/t to Jay). No mention of this by Langford in the article, by the way. Of course, it wasn’t one of his grandiose ideas.

After watching that I wonder (?) why don’t we have people with an eye on the future in our city government? Why do we elect people who are tied to the past? I love what my friend said the other day, that the past should be a light post, not a hitching post.

I hate that Birmingham is about to get another black eye when the mayor goes on trial. I hate that this is tied to the troubles of Jefferson County, which is sinking faster than the Titanic. What business in their right mind would want to locate in the city or county with what is going on? What family would want to move here?

There is a great opportunity in Birmingham for a new kind of leadership, and city elections are coming up next month. Let’s hope that the voters of Birmingham look for young leaders or at least leaders with young ideas that can change the vision from looking backward to looking forward.

The same holds true for Bessemer. Next year we have city elections and will elect a council and mayor. We need new people on our council and a new mayor to project our city into the future. The people of Bessemer and surrounding communities are so disgruntled that only 8 percent voted in the recent special election. We need candidates that excite us.

Oh, and aren’t County Commission elections next year also. Please, please, voters, replace them all. I don’t care if your favorite commissioner has been on the right side of the bankruptcy argument or the McCalla controversy or what. They are all tainted.

>Things didn’t start out right today

July 2, 2009

>I like to read the morning paper by holding in my hand with a cup of coffee on the table. But once again, the Birmingham News did not deliver today.

I know, I could read online, but I really can’t stand al.com because of their never ending pop ups and crap.

But I did read John Archibald’s column because it is about Priscilla Dunn’s victory in the District 19 Senate race.

At the Lipscomb Fire Station, where 373 people are registered, just 11 came out. That’s a turnout of just 2.9 percent. It’s a number — really — that is smaller than the percentage of people who live below the poverty level in Mountain Brook.

Dang.

At Fairfield City Hall, where 114 people are registered to vote, just six bothered to show up. There were 23 voters at Mulga Town Hall, 41 at Brookside City Hall, and 41 at Forestdale Square.

I’d really like to meet the voter who bothered to show up at Hueytown Community School. It’s true only 39 voters in the district are registered there, but still. Only one hearty soul came.

Forget one man, one vote. We’re practicing one man, one voting place…

That is absolutely pitiful. Of course, as I alluded to yesterday, it’s shocking that more people voted in the runoff than in the primary.

Hey, if we can get voters in Bessemer to continue their apathy next year, maybe we can elect a progressive candidate that will offer solutions to problems rather than just thanking God for our blessings (number 9 most dangerous city in the country, potholes in every street, “thank you God”).

So, I’m sitting here getting the run around regarding a writing opportunity and left to think about “Do I really want to be living here?”

No, it’s not just about the crime rate. I want to see that changed. And it’s not just about having air quality that keeps me confined to the house (I don’t always observe the recommendations, but I do suffer when I try to have a life on “ozone” days). I would like to see that changed, too, but there’s Alabama Power.

It’s more about living in a city located in a county that is trying to reduce law enforcement (thankfully we have a sheriff that will stand up to the county commission), about to stop inspection services (so houses can be built without adhering to proper electrical and plumbing and construction codes…if a contractor so chooses), and is unable to support the arts and the quality of life issues that I seek.

And its about living next to a “major” city that controls the doings of the metro area, with a mayor who is an absolute nutcase. (Well, at least he supports the zoo).

Today I could continue my theme of glbt hate crimes (a teenager in the UK , a bar in Fort Worth in a case that I have been following, a sailor at Camp Pendleton and there are more)…

Jason Saunders, age 18, in the UK

…but I think I’ll just post this video of an unemployed chicken catcher from Mayfield, Kentucky that wowed the judges last night on America’s Got Talent. I like Garth Brooks, by the way.

>Jefferson County Line Up

December 2, 2008

>Information in this post comes from these stories in the Birmingham News.

We live in a county that has elected criminals to its County Commission. Well, maybe they weren’t criminals before they ran for office. Maybe. But Jeff Germany, Chris McNair, Mary Buckelew, Gary White and now Larry Langford were all commissioners between 1986 and 2006.
Jeff Germany, convicted in 2006 of using social service programs to get taxpayer money for personal gain.

Chris McNair, convicted in 2006 of bribery and conspiracy tied to the sewer rebuilding program.

Mary Buckelew, pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in sewer deal, after receiving Salvatore Ferragamo shoes and a handbag worth $1500, a $1400 spa treatment and $1119 more in items from the Italian designer store.

Gary White, convicted in 2008 of conspiracy and bribery tied to sewer program. His conviction was set aside and he is awaiting new trial.*

Larry Langford, indicted for bribery, conspiracy, fraud, money laundering and filing false income tax returns in 2008.

* I personally think White’s charges were politically motivated (Why Gary White Was Prosecuted). But still, five former County Commissioners, one of which is now the Mayor of the largest shrinking city in the state.

Why do the people of this county elect so many crooks? Or do they elect good people who can not resist the temptations set before them after they enter public life?

Various city and state officials have commented about what effect this will have on Birmingham’s near and distant future. Can a county teetering on bankruptcy and stacking up felons like cordwood attract entrepreneurs and business investors to locate in its largest city?

Many writers in Jefferson County, including me, find it difficult to avoid cynicism about this because we pay for the Rolexes and Ferragamo shoes every time we flush the toilet. To accept bribes at the expense of the people who elected you shows what you really think of those people.
Langford is such a hypocrite, urging inner city parents not to buy expensive clothes for their kids, and wearing a Rolex watch to his “Sackcloth and Ashes” show. He said he learned a lesson as a child after being beat with an electric cord by his mother and taken to juvy by his stepfather to be shown what happens to boys that steal after he was caught stealing money to buy oatmeal cookies.

Maybe its time for a few more lashes with the electric cord.

And maybe its time we look for different leadership qualities in those we elect to public office.

>The Sewer Mess

August 15, 2008

>The Jefferson County Commission has passed a resolution that will allow questions regarding the $3.2 billion sewer debt to be on the November ballot (thus creating longer lines and frustrated voters dealing with an issue that should have been solved long before the election).

This county commission does not inspire confidence. I went to the public hearing Wednesday night in Bessemer, with Bobby Humphryes and Jim Carns and here is what the title page of their power point presentation looked like.

Jefferson County, AL

A PRESENATION
of JEFFRSON COUNTY’S SEWER
RESTRUCTURING PLAN

Now I admit that more often that I like I misspell words on this blog, but when preparing a power point presentation I take extra steps to assure my spelling is correct. Presenation? Jeffrson?

Of the 150 or so people at the event, only a handful, probably less than 10, (other than elected officials) were black. Why? Because the event was sponsored by white Republican commissioners? Because they realize that their opinions do not matter to the commissioners that are supposed to serve them?

And probably less than 20 were under 35 years of age, and most were of retirement age. Why? Because everyone is affected by this, even those who are not rate payers. The cost will trickle down to everyone, in one way or another. Was it because young people do not watch the news? Or feel disenfranchised by the whole commission, which, unlike the mayor and council, seem far distant and in their own little world?

Anyway, now the commission has put forth a resolution which will allow the voters of the county to answer questions in November. This problem can not wait until November. But the questions will be there anyway. There is a poll over to the left where you can vote on these questions in essence. Please participate, voting is anonymous. Comments are welcome.

FIRST QUESTION Jefferson County confronts a crisis involving a sewer debt of $3.25 billion that was incurred under court order pursuant to the federal Clean Water Act. Which of the following courses of action should be taken by the county? Select One:

Attempt to implement a plan under Chapter 9 of the federal bankruptcy law that would repudiate all or a significant part of the sewer debt.

Default on the payment of the sewer debt and accept the appointment of a receiver for the sewer system with power to raise sewer rates within the limits of the law to remedy such default.

Pay the sewer debt in full by reducing the amount payable from sewer revenues and using various tax revenues to pay a portion of the debt.

SECOND QUESTION The Jefferson County sewer system benefits the entire county by preventing the contamination of streams and assuring the sanitary treatment of waste in accordance with the environmental standards of the federal government. Health and recreational benefits accrue to citizens who do not directly use the system as well as to those who do. Is it fair for only those citizens directly using the sewer system to bear the entire burden of the cost?:

Yes

No

THIRD QUESTION The Retirement Systems of Alabama (“RSA“) has publicized a proposal that calls for Jefferson County to attempt the implementation of a plan under Chapter 9 of the federal bankruptcy law which involves the repudiation of a major portion of the sewer debt and the sale of the sewer system to RSA.

(A) Since lowering the price to be paid by RSA will increase the remainder of the $3.25 billion in sewer debt that must be repudiated, what is the price that should be paid by RSA?:

$1 billion or more but less than $2.0 billion
$2.0 billion or more but less than $3.0 billion

(B) Should there by any restriction on the subsequent right of RSA to sell the sewer system to a private company?

Yes

No

(C) Should the county require indemnity from RSA or any subsequent purchaser for future liability arising under federal or state environmental laws?

Yes

No

>Western Tribune column August 13

August 13, 2008

>This column from today’s paper is about the sewer crisis. FYI, today there will be a “public hearing” in Bessemer about the status of the sewer deal. This ought to be interesting.

JEFFERSON COUNTY COMMISSION
PUBLIC HEARING
RE: SEWER STATUS
Hosted by
Commissioners Bobby Humphreys & Jim Carnes

A public hearing will be held on
Wednesday, August 13
7 p.m
Bessemer Civic Center

The reference to “encyclopedia” in the column refers to a letter printed in last week’s Tribune from Dr. Doug Smith of Bessemer, who recommended an encyclopedia to check my facts regarding drilling for oil. Of course he offered no facts of his on. This is the same right winger who compared me to Neville Chamberlain, and to which I defended my opinions here.

Western Tribune column

I sometimes comment on Larry Langford even though he is not my mayor because he is so funny.

For instance, asking for the price of a Cadillac Escalade and then throwing a two year old hissy fit when questioned about it. “I resent how we focus on the mundane and the stupid…” he said. Like Olympics in Birmingham, perhaps?

And now that Langford is no longer on the Jefferson County Commission, I rarely comment about them either, other than Bettye Fine Collins. She sometimes deserves special attention. Like when she commented on our new courthouse, “Why in the world are we building a $100 million deal in Bessemer?”

But this commission is costing me, and you, a lot of money.

Things may change before this is printed, but as it stands now the commission wants Governor Riley to call a special session so legislators could enact their latest scheme that would raise taxes and extend them for a long, long time. I think the three commissioners who favor this plan are hoping the increased taxes will be blamed on the legislature and voters and not themselves. Sly.

Bankruptcy is the other option. Alabama pension fund chief David Bronner has proposed the county file bankruptcy on the system, and let Retirement Systems of Alabama (or another entity) buy it for a couple of billion dollars. Creditors would still be in the hole for over one billion dollars, but could pursue money from the bond insurers.

But, no new taxes for residents.

The commission has been dodging payments for months and has dangled gambling (which, if you think about it, is what got the county into this mess) and pilfering (the school tax) as a solution, but those did not fly.

I sure don’t have a solution but there is one plan they haven’t considered yet. Develop a “sewage to bio-diesel” program, modify county vehicles to run on it, and use the money saved to pay down the debt.

According to an “Encyclopedia” (which apparently is the only source of information some people understand), I have learned that the Department of Energy says algae grown on sewage retention ponds yields 30 times more energy per acre than soybeans. And next month’s Popular Mechanics magazine, while not mentioning sewage, has an article that says several “algae to fuel” facilities are scheduled to come on line by 2012.

Now if we can just do something about that exhaust.

>Shelia Smoot, this is America

August 13, 2008

>Shelia Smoot said this, in response to Artur Davis’s recommendation that the voters of Jefferson county vote to elect the county commission president:

“That’s like saying the Federal government needs to be elected by someone in Alaska.”

The people of Alaska vote for the president. The people Of Alaska vote for their senators. The people of Alaska vote for the representatives. The people of Alaska along with the rest of the people in the country elect the Federal government.

Davis is right. The county does need someone who is accountable to all the people. A county manager or elected commission president would go a long way toward restoring confidence in the commission.

The Sewer. What a Mess

March 13, 2008

There are not many options for Jefferson County to get out of the Sewer Mess (aren’t all sewer’s a mess?) but it is going to take a lot of convincing to get me to support taking money from education as has now been proposed. First a 1 cent sales tax hike for education that the citizens didn’t even get a chance to vote on, and now a proposal to use some of that tax money for a purpose other than what it was passed for. (Can you say “Bessemer property tax passed for library expansion?“)

If I am not mistaken this tax is supposed to be repealed in 12 years or so. Now if money is shifted from the proceeds…do you think the tax will be repealed? Taxes, once levied, have a habit of remaining, so here we go.

I wonder how many people have considered the huge debt that the residents of Jefferson County will ultimately be paying one way or another, and coupled with the 329 % increase in sewer rates over the last 11 years, are thinking that moving out of Jefferson County might be a good idea.

The thought has crossed my mind. I don’t mind living in a state where the political climate is such that those in power are opposed to just about everything I believe in. In that situation one can stay and fight for what they believe in.

But in times of a floundering economy, with rising gasoline prices and grocery bills, can we afford to pay for the mistakes (criminal, greed or stupidity) made by elected officials? When we could just move a few miles away and save a wad of money? Of course, we wouldn’t be in this historic home in this historic area, but it is something to think about. And if we moved further away gasoline expenses would go up since we would be driving more.

Oh well, still something to think about.

And will new people be considering moving into the county with this debt looming over them? Just things to think about.

This video is about…world populations and technology and jobs and shifts in perception and reality. I only wish that the new fiber optic capabilites that are mentioned would be applied to Bessemer where dsl must stand for “damn slow lines”. Is it just me or is anyone else who has AT&T (formerly Bellsouth) broadband seeing their service get slower and slower?